Notes for an Epilogue: Documenting Rural Romania

<i>Sodium Factory</i> (Ocna-Mures, Central Romania), 2012
Sodium Factory (Ocna-Mures, Central Romania), 2012
<i>Farmhouse</i> (near Silvasu de Sus, West Romania), 2011
Farmhouse (near Silvasu de Sus, West Romania), 2011
<i>Choir</i> (near Abrud, West Romania), 2012
Choir (near Abrud, West Romania), 2012
<i>Hovels</i> (near Moisei, North Romania), 2011
Hovels (near Moisei, North Romania), 2011
<i>Railway Station</i> (Hunedoara, Central Romania), 2013
Railway Station (Hunedoara, Central Romania), 2013
<i>The Flooded Village of Geamana</i> (Geamana, Central Romania), 2011
The Flooded Village of Geamana (Geamana, Central Romania), 2011
<i>Dump</i> (near Aiud, West Romania), 2012
Dump (near Aiud, West Romania), 2012
<i>Sheep Farm</i> (Silvasu de Sus, West Romania), 2011
Sheep Farm (Silvasu de Sus, West Romania), 2011
<i>Anina Mine</i> (Anina, West Romania), 2013
Anina Mine (Anina, West Romania), 2013
<i>Metal Scrap Collector</i> (near Hunedoara, West Romania), 2011
Metal Scrap Collector (near Hunedoara, West Romania), 2011
<i>Tunnel</i> (near Vidraru Dam, Central Romania), 2013
Tunnel (near Vidraru Dam, Central Romania), 2013
<i>Costica</i> (Muntele Mare, West Romania), 2012
Costica (Muntele Mare, West Romania), 2012
<i>Roadside Shop</i> (near Oradea, West Romania), 2012
Roadside Shop (near Oradea, West Romania), 2012

Tamas Dezso (b. 1978, Budapest) is a fine-art documentary photographer whose recent work focuses on long-term engagement with margins of society in Hungary, Romania, and other parts of Eastern Europe. Dezso started off as a domestic photojournalist, then a decade ago began to accept photojournalism assignments in neighboring Romania. In 2008, moved by his expanding perspective on marginalized regions in former Eastern Bloc countries as they endure the continuing shift from communism to EU-centralized governments, he decided to pursue independent photography to allow himself more prolonged and intense contact with his subjects. His first long-term project, Here, Anywhere, focuses on vacant and deteriorating post-communist spaces in Hungary; the portfolio here represents part of his second such study, the ongoing Notes for an Epilogue series, which he began in 2011 and which represents the disintegrating of “spiritual tradition and physical heritage” in rural Romanian villages.*

Though Romania’s tiger economy—with annual growth rates more than triple the EU average in the 2000s before the economic crisis—has fed rapid structural development in Bucharest and in tourist locales such as the Black Sea coast and the Carpathian Mountains, smaller villages have taken the hit that comes with such development, an outcome the World Bank calls “inherent” in its “Competitive Cities” report of 2009. Dezso, in a 2013 interview with the San Francisco Examiner, said these “untouched areas . . . fascinated” him—this fascination stemming in part, perhaps, from how such places are implicitly slated to vanish as the transition to a globalized economy continues.

During his travels through the Romanian countryside, Dezso has been stricken by “a way of life close to nature,” one made ever closer as people strip buildings of their raw materials—consider Metal Scrap Collector, where a man stands partway up an exposed concrete staircase while cutting out rebar with a hacksaw—or when their mines and factories are abandoned and begin returning to the earth, as in Sodium Factory and Anina Mine.

Shooting with Phase One cameras and various Schneider Kreuznach lenses, Dezso draws out the usually soft but sometimes vivid color palette of industrial destruction: note the still hold of The Flooded Village of Geamana, where rolling mountains surround a church spire rising from a frozen lake of toxic slurry otherwise burying a village sacrificed to facilitate the operation of a nearby copper mine. In this context, the reasonably maintained interior shown in Railway Station is revealing as an infrastructural exit to Romania’s economic centers—something the state department is still willing to touch.
While documenting the countryside’s deterioration, Dezso also takes care to track what he calls “resilient humanity”—in Choir, for example, men in traditional dress head uphill along a path in the snow, the habit of long-held practice visible in their relaxed, orderly trek. And in Roadside Shop, a stall selling colorful holiday and decorative paraphernalia opens like a fireplace against a quiet background of winter.

J.G.

 

All images copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dezso, courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco.

 

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*See Dezso’s artist statement at http://www.tamas-dezso.com/index.php.

 

Tamas Dezso’s award-winning photographs have appeared in publications such as TIME, the New York Times, National Geographic, PDN, Le Monde Magazine, the Sunday Times, the British Journal of Photography, and others. He is represented by the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco, and he has had solo exhibitions in Brussels, Budapest, Bratislava, New York, Santa Fe, and elsewhere.